When Hull City defender Paul McShane trudged off the KC Stadium pitch at full time on Saturday he thought the next time he would return to it would be for an npower Championship play-off clash eight days later.
As the final whistle sounded on the Tigers’ enthralling 2-2 draw with champions Cardiff, McShane and his team-mates turned their focus to Vicarage Road where victory for Watford against Leeds would have relegated Hull to third.
“I thought we were done,” said McShane. “I was getting my head around the play-offs because somebody on the pitch said it was 2-1 to Watford so I was devastated, but just trying to get my head around it.”
There was plenty for McShane to comprehend. Four second-half goals – one of which he scored – a red card, two penalties and a premature pitch invasion had taken McShane on an “emotional rollercoaster”.
A first-half injury to Watford goalkeeper Jonathan Bond meant their game was running 16 minutes behind Hull’s clash, so Steve Bruce’s players were huddled around televisions, slumped against corridor walls or simply trying to avoid it all in the toilets during an anxious wait. One Hornets strike would have sent them up to the Barclays Premier League at Hull’s expense, but a Ross McCormack goal gave Leeds a 2-1 win and prompted jubilant scenes back in East Yorkshire.
McShane, who compared the astonishing closing stages to Manchester City’s last-gasp title win a year ago, added: “I just tried to keep level-headed because I didn’t want to start celebrating. Watching the game in the tunnel was surreal, really like a bit of a dreamland. The game finished 2-1 to Leeds and people went wild. The crowd out on the pitch there – amazing stuff.”
It completed a remarkable first year in the job for Bruce, who believes putting a third promotion on his CV has restored a reputation which was tarnished at Sunderland following his sacking 18 months ago. Reflecting on his tenure with the Black Cats, Bruce said: “I took over a team that had just, on the last day of the season, avoided relegation. We finished 13th first year, 10th second year, balanced the books and I got the sack after 11 games, so of course it hurt me because I thought I’d get a chance and it didn’t happen.
“I worked hard at Birmingham and Wigan to get the chance at a club like Sunderland and it’s taken away from you, so you have to rebuild yourself. Hopefully I’ve proved to a few people that I’m not bad at what I do.”
Amid all the chaos at the top of the npower Championship, it was easy to overlook the drama which unfolded at the bottom, where Wolves and Peterborough slid out of the division.
For Wanderers, a second successive drop was expected owing to their goal difference, and even that was rendered meaningless when they lost 2-0 at Brighton. For Posh, their situation changed a number of times. Starting outside the bottom three, they dipped in and out as Barnsley and Huddersfield traded goals in their clash. That ultimately ended 2-2 which would have kept Darren Ferguson’s men safe but when they conceded a last-minute winner to Crystal Palace, they were down.
Just 12 months ago Wolves were in the Premier League. “Next season is going to be very difficult,” said owner Steve Morgan in a letter to his club’s fans last night. “However, we will face the task of League One football with utmost determination and humility. We will do our very best, compete in every league match and fight our way back.”
Not that Peterborough manager Ferguson was accepting it, though, saying: “It’s difficult to explain how we feel as a group. It couldn’t have gone any closer.”